As one of the final witnesses at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth apologized for his force’s record when it comes to protecting the city’s large Indigenous population.

“I… want to acknowledge that the police in Winnipeg have not always been on the right path, that our past actions and procedures contributed to harming Indigenous people in our community, that Indigenous women were not treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve,” Smyth told the hearing on Thursday in St. John’s, N.L.

“As the chief of the Winnipeg Police Service, I offer my apologies for past conduct and policies that contributed to harming Indigenous women and girls.”

According to 2016 data from Statistics Canada, people who identify as Indigenous comprised roughly 12 per cent of Winnipeg’s population. That, Smyth said, gives Winnipeg “the largest concentration of Indigenous peoples living in a major city in Canada.”

Between nine and 11 per cent of members of the Winnipeg Police Service are currently Indigenous, Smyth added.

In the past, Smyth said Winnipeg police consistently failed its Indigenous population. Since adopting a victim-centred approach to law enforcement and engaging with Indigenous community groups like the Bear Clan, Smyth said things have improved. But more work, he acknowledged, still needs to be done.

“I will ensure that the police reflect the needs and expectations of our community,” Smyth promised at the hearing. “And this will be done by continuing to recruit Winnipeg police that is representative by Indigenous officers and employees; this will be done by continuing to partner with our Indigenous service providers; and it will be done through training and education so that our members understand the generational trauma inflicted upon Indigenous people through colonization, the residential school system and government-imposed Child and Family Services.”

With files from The Canadian Press